Vaccine Refusal Higher Among Health Workers Who Feel Pressured by Employers, According to New Research

New research suggests that health and social care workers who feel greater pressure from their employers to receive Covid vaccinated are more likely to decline it. The study, not yet peer reviewed, was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and “emphasise[s] the importance of Covid vaccination remaining voluntary”, according to its lead author. Here are the key findings.

In a survey of nearly 2,000 [health and social care workers], participants were asked for their level of agreement with the statement “I feel/felt under pressure from my employer to get a Covid vaccine”. This was asked on a four-point scale from (one) strongly disagree to (four) strongly agree. For each additional point of agreement on the scale, participants were 75% more likely to have declined Covid vaccination.

Among unvaccinated participants, worrying concerns were raised about how their vaccination decision might impact their job security. For social care workers, pressure was exacerbated by hearing of care sector employers making Covid vaccination mandatory for staff, and the vulnerability of social care worker positions (e.g. employment on zero-hours contracts).

Feeling pressurised had damaging effects, eroding trust and negatively affecting relationships at work, and often exacerbated Covid vaccination concerns and hardened stances on declining vaccination…

Dr Sadie Bell, Research Fellow at LSHTM and lead author said: “Our findings emphasise the importance of Covid vaccination remaining voluntary. Organisational factors and workplace culture play an important role in the likelihood of both being offered and getting vaccinated. Health and social care providers need to offer a space for their staff to have “conversations” where they feel safe to ask about Covid vaccination, and not feel judged and stigmatised for having questions and/or concerns.”

The research team used a mixed-methods approach – involving an online cross-sectional survey and interviews – to find out U.K. health and social care workers’ views on Covid vaccination.  1,917 health and social care workers – 1658 healthcare workers and 261 social care workers – completed the survey. 20 survey participants were interviewed…

The survey revealed common reasons for declining the vaccine were concerns about side effects and a lack of research on the vaccine. It revealed the main motivation for vaccine acceptance was protecting family members and friends, and self-protection from Covid…

Sandra Mounier-Jack, an Associate Professor in Health Policy at LSHTM and study author, said: “Our work shows a move towards mandating Covid vaccination is likely to harden stances and negatively affect trust in the vaccination, provider, and policymakers. Health and social care employers are in a pivotal position to facilitate Covid vaccination access, ensuring staff are aware of how to get vaccinated and promoting a workplace environment in which vaccination decisions are informed and voluntary.”

These findings echo SAGE member Stephen Reicher’s recent warning that the introduction of vaccine passports (that is, a step towards mandatory vaccination) could lead to people refusing to get vaccinated against Covid. If the Government’s aim really is to increase vaccine uptake among health workers (and all others, for that matter), it should abandon any plans for mandatory vaccination.

The LSHTM report is worth reading in full.

Ministers “Can’t Rule Out” the Return of Tiered Lockdowns

Ministers have recently been treading very lightly when discussing the final stages of the “roadmap” out of lockdown. Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that the Government hasn’t ruled out ending the mask mandate on June 21st, adding that both the introduction of Covid vaccine passports and the continuation of “social” distancing beyond this date also remain on the table. The latest suggestion comes from the Environment Secretary, who says we could see a return of tiered lockdown restrictions. When such a system was last imposed, 99% of the population in England lived under the toughest two tiers, with just 714,000 people living under “tier one” restrictions. George Eustice now says that tiered restrictions could be used to combat “local outbreaks” of Covid in areas where people might have become “too lax” about the rules. MailOnline has the story.

Environment Secretary George Eustice revealed Number 10 was “closely monitoring” several localised coronavirus outbreaks that have cropped up in recent weeks.

Analysis shows that while national infections have continued to plunge, there are 34 areas across Britain where cases have spiked in the past fortnight and are now recording rates twice as high as the U.K. average.

Mr Eustice said scientists were unsure what was driving the flare-ups – predominantly in the North of England – but suggested people may have become “too lax” with Covid rules, or the highly infectious Indian variant could be driving cases. 

Asked if local restrictions could be reimposed to squash local outbreaks during a round of interviews today, he said: “We can’t rule anything out.”

He told Sky News: “But our plan that’s been set out by the Prime Minister, the reason we’re being incredibly cautious about exiting lockdown, is we want this to be the last. We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation. We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown.”

Most social distancing restrictions in England are to be lifted on June 21st as part of the final step in Number 10’s roadmap out of lockdown. Boris Johnson this week raised hopes that an end to Covid measures may be sight, suggesting social distancing could be scrapped completely by next month. 

The tiered system last summer was heavily criticised for being too convoluted, with people in neighbouring streets often living by a completely different set of rules.

The Prime Minister himself admitted they were “confusing” as he struggled to explain the difference between restrictions imposed in the North East in September. 

The average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15% to 40.1 per 100,000 people in the fortnight up to May 4th, according to the latest statistics.

But analysis shows that 28 local authorities in England, four in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland are recording double the national case rate.

Quizzed about the hotspots this morning, Mr Eustice told Sky News: “We are not sure what could be driving it, whether it’s particular variants that have taken hold of people being a bit too lax about restrictions that are in place… but we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Worth reading in full.

MIT Researchers Find That ‘Skeptics’ Value Data Literacy and Scientific Rigour

Throughout the pandemic, governments have claimed to be following “the science”. But of course, many aspects of “the science” were never settled. 

The WHO, as well as the UK Government, initially told us not to wear face masks. They then decided that face masks were essential. Countries like Australia and New Zealand introduced border controls in early February. Meanwhile, UK scientists were advising against port-of-entry screening. Researchers predicted there would be 96,000 deaths in Sweden by July. But as it turned out, there were less than 6,000. 

Of course, many people have been sceptical of “the science” (by which I mean the officially endorsed science) from the very beginning. And of course, they’ve formed communities online with other like-minded persons. (I suppose Lockdown Sceptics would be one example of such a community.) 

In an unpublished paper, researchers from MIT sought to understand how the users of these communities obtain, analyse, share and curate information. Surprisingly (to them), they found that users place a premium on data literacy and scientific rigour. 

The researchers used a mixed methods design. First, they analysed a large sample of pandemic-related tweets sent between January and July 2020. Second, they employed ethnographic methods to study users on “anti-mask” Facebook groups. (Note that they use “anti-mask” as a “synecdoche for a broad spectrum of beliefs: that the pandemic is exaggerated, schools should be reopening, etc.”)

In their analysis of Twitter data, the researchers found that sceptics “share the second-highest number of charts across the top six communities”, and that they are “the most prolific producers of area/line charts”, while sharing “the fewest number of photos”. They also found that such individuals “often create polished counter-visualizations that would not be out of place in scientific papers”.  

In their study of “anti-mask” Facebook groups, the researchers found that users “value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over “expert” interpretations”, and that “their approach to the pandemic is grounded in more scientific rigor, not less.” 

“Most fundamentally,” the researchers write, “the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution.” They note:

While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist.

According to the researchers, “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries,” and data literacy is a “quintessential criterion for membership within the community they have created.”

Based on these descriptions, one might assume the paper was written by a cadre of undercover sceptics. But the researchers make clear they are “not promoting these views”. Overall, it’s a fascinating study which is worth reading in full

News Round Up

What Second Wave? Total Deaths in UK and Sweden Now Average for 2021

New figures from the ONS released yesterday show that deaths in England and Wales are running 7.3% below the five-year average for the week ending April 30th. This is the eighth consecutive week that registered deaths have been below the five-year average.

While the UK’s winter epidemic has been over for some months now, Sweden, like much of the continent, has seen a spring wave.

ICUs have been busier in spring than they were in winter.

French Parliament Votes Against Vaccine Passports – but it’s Not Over Yet for the Scheme

The French Parliament has voted against the introduction of domestic Covid vaccine passports, but officials seem determined to find a way to pass them into law regardless. 20minutes has the story (translated from French by Google Translate).

Against all odds, the National Assembly voted on Tuesday against the key article of the bill on the way out of the Covid health crisis. This is the article including the controversial “health pass”.

The scales tilted against the bill after the Democratic Movement (MoDem) party split from members of La République En Marche! (LREM) to protest against the vagueness of the text. The Deputies rejected Article One by 108 votes against 103. “There was no dialogue” on “the red lines” of the text… explained Philippe Latombe of MoDem, stressing the unanimity of his group against the article.

After this surprise rejection, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on France 2 that the Deputies were going to deliberate again on Tuesday evening in order to “find an agreement with the majority” and “to settle this problem”.

The bill on “management of the exit from the health crisis” sets a transition period from June 2nd to October 31st during which the Government can continue to exercise powers deemed exorbitant by the opposition and some defenders of public freedoms.

Article One, rejected by the deputies… provided for a health pass which would make access to large gatherings or certain places subject to the presentation of a negative test result, or a proof of vaccination, or a certificate of recovery.

It sparked heated debate on Monday night. For large gatherings requiring the “pass”, a limit of 1,000 people has been promised by the Government but without setting it in stone in the law.

Stanislas Guerini, the Executive Officer of LREM, said in response to this vote: “I regret it because I am resolutely in favour of the introduction of the health pass: it will allow us to regain our freedoms more quickly… There may be a second reading in the National Assembly. We will have to find a way to introduce this tool.”

Advice to Manchester United Fans Travelling to Poland: Don’t Bother

Manchester United F.C. has emailed fans who’ve applied for tickets for the UEFA Europa League Final in Gdansk on May 26th this evening with a long list of dos and don’ts.

Thank you for registering your interest in tickets for the UEFA Europa League Final. We continue to work extensively with UEFA, the Police, Transport Authorities and the Department of Health to understand everything which will be required of our fans travelling to Gdansk. Please take note of some important information below – if you would like to withdraw your application, please click the link below before midday on Wed May 12th.

Before you travel
• You need to make sure that you have booked all required PCR tests, for before and after your trip – further information is provided below, but you will be required to book and pay for them all before you travel
• You will need valid insurance, and we would recommend that this includes the cost for any expenses should you return a positive test at any point in time on your trip (UEFA / trips will not be refundable by the provider)
• We also suggest that you plan your travel insurance in advance, as we have been advised that it can be difficult to obtain this when travelling to an Amber category country
• Departure out of the UK will be dependent on you returning a negative PCR test, which you must book and pay for prior to travel. The cost is usually around £100. This should be undertaken within 48 hours of departure so that the same negative test result can be used upon return

Arriving in Poland
• If you arrive at Gdansk Airport on May 26th you will not be required to undertake a further test, but may be required to evidence your existing negative test (we are waiting for confirmation from other airports)
• Arrival in Poland on any other day will require a further test at the airport, and anybody who returns a positive test will not be permitted to enter Poland – the process for those affected, and where they will be required to wait, is not yet confirmed

In Poland (based on current guidance)
• There are no facilities such as fan zones, bars or restaurants open as the country is still in lockdown, so please bear this in mind when planning travel
• Public transport is operating with 50% capacity seating to maintain appropriate distance between passengers. You can still use taxis
• Face masks must be worn at all times
• If there are medical reasons why you cannot wear a face mask, you must carry a doctor’s note with you explaining this. Bandanas, scarves, balaclavas and visors are not permitted alternatives to face masks
• Police and sanitary inspectors are entitled to issue you with an on-the-spot fine (approximately PLN500/£100) if you are found not to be wearing a face mask when you should. Further prosecution could result in a fine of up to PLN 30,000 (£6,000) for failing to follow sanitary rules
• Stadium entry will all be via digital tickets, which are issued to fans by UEFA directly. Whilst we will issue as much notice as possible after our ballot, by Friday, there will be no option for us to support you with this, as we will not have access to their ticketing system. You must therefore ensure that you preserve your mobile phone battery during the day so that you can use your device to enter the stadium with your digital ticket. If you do not have a mobile phone that is compatible with digital tickets, you should cancel your application

Arrival back to the UK
Arrival back from an Amber category country requires you to prove at passport control that you have:
• returned a negative PCR test before travelling
• completed your passenger locator form (you can do this at https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control) and
• pre-booked your PCR tests for day two and eight of quarantine.
• These will each usually cost around £100, but can be as cheap as £116 for two tests
• Unfortunately, we are unable to recommend providers

Failure to be able to provide evidence of all of the above could incur a fine of up to £10,000 or up to 10 years in prison.

Quarantine Information
• You will be required to quarantine in your home for 10 days following arrival back in the UK (noting the day after arrival back counts as day one)
• Quarantine compliance checks will take place and the Police will have access to information provided in your passenger locator form
• Any supporters found not to be observing the quarantine face fixed penalty notices of £500. Please ensure you fully understand quarantine requirements, which can be viewed here
• There is as an option to do “Test to release” for early release from quarantine, which is an additional day five test with a private provider. This can be done in a clinic (this provides much quicker results) or via post. A list of providers can be found on www.gov.uk

We understand that confirmation of Poland being placed in the Amber category may have impacted your initial decision to register for tickets and as referenced earlier, if you would like to remove your registration of interest, please click here before midday on Wed May 12th.

If you do still plan to attend the final, please note that the ballot will take place on Friday May 14th, at which point we will confirm details of available travel via Sportsbreaks.com, and the process for securing tickets through UEFA. At this time, we do not have any further information on what price tickets will be available, and to who, but we are hopeful that all supporters with at least one European away credit will be successful.

Regards
Ticketing & Membership Services

As the Man Utd fan who passed this on to us said, “All this to see a football match!”

In Defence of the Handshake

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr David McGrogan, Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School, in defence of the handshake. As far as Prof. McGrogan is concerned, we cannot hope to return to normal life unless we start shaking each other’s hands again. Here is an extract:

The handshake is alive and well and living in Paris – not to mention London, New York, and Stockton-on-Tees. Prohibition never eliminates a practice, as any fool can tell you; it just drives it into the weeds. And handshaking is no different. People are still doing it. And now it has a subversive edge. When somebody offers you their hand these days, it is no longer just the meaningless ritual of yesteryear – it sends some important messages, which are all the more profound for the fact that they are not consciously sent or received. Human communication is not just verbal, but physical, and one only has to think for a second to realise that our physical ways of communicating – kissing, hugging, shaking hands – are often the most significant. What words are there that can surpass a simple hug from a loved one at a time of crisis? Or a first kiss? Or a handshake on the playground after a fight?

The first unconscious message sent by the post-2020 handshake is simply stated: you and your fellow hand-shaker are simpatico. The mask-wearing, the social distancing, the fear-mongering – maybe you’ll go along with it if you must, but deep down inside, you hate it. And with that furtive handshake, both of you now know that you’re in the same club. The wheat has been separated from the chaff.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Promises a Full Public Inquiry Into the Government’s Handling of Covid Before the End of This Parliamentary Session

Boris Johnson has been pushed into promising a full public inquiry into the Government’s handling of Covid and says that one will begin before the end of this parliamentary session. MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister firmed up his commitment to an early probe into the crisis as he was grilled by MPs about the Queen’s Speech plans.

Up to now, Mr Johnson has seemed unwilling to give a timetable, pointing out that ministers and officials are focused on the response to the disease.

But Sir Keir Starmer and other opposition parties have insisted that an inquiry should start immediately to learn lessons.

In the Commons, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey urged Mr Johnson to set up an inquiry “on behalf of bereaved families across the country”.

Mr Johnson replied: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session.” …

“I have made that clear before… I do believe it’s essential we have a full, proper public inquiry into the Covid pandemic.”

Although there is no fixed length for a parliamentary session, they typically run for around a year…

A full public inquiry would be likely to take many years to complete.

To date, most of the calls for an inquiry made by those in the media and political classes have focussed on the idea that the Government was too slow to introduce the first lockdown. Whether or not the inquiry will look at the impact of lockdowns on Covid mortality, other diseases, mental health, education and the economy – as Recovery suggests – has yet to be seen. I won’t be holding my breath.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

Travellers Complain of a Deterioration in Their Mental and Physical Health While Staying at “Prison-Like” Quarantine Hotels

People travelling into the U.K. from countries on the Government’s “red list” must isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel – and pay £1,750 per adult for the privilege! They’re not exactly getting their money’s worth, however. Some travellers have complained of a deterioration in their mental and physical health while isolating due to a lack of fresh air, exercise and proper food. The Guardian has talked to nine travellers who are or have recently been in quarantine hotels.

Some of them had travelled abroad due to sickness or death of loved ones and so were already in a distressed and traumatised state before entering the quarantine process…

While nobody challenged the need to quarantine, it is the way the process has been handled that has generated the complaints. A Facebook group called U.K. Hotel Quarantine Support Chat has been set up and has thousands of members, many of whom have raised concerns about quarantine arrangements.

Dr Sanjay Gupta, an NHS cardiology consultant, who was returning from Kenya where he had travelled to be with his dying father, said: “Not everyone can afford to pay the £1,750 cost. There seems to be something shamelessly opportunistic about this situation. But if you’re arriving from a red list country you don’t have a choice.”

Dr Thanjavur Bragadeesh, also an NHS consultant, who had returned from India where he was helping to care for his elderly parents after both had had surgery, said: “It took several hours to reach the hotel after arriving at the airport. The food is not good and the quantities are small. I got a small box of cereal for breakfast with a cheese omelette that was so hard that if I had thrown it, it would hit someone. One of the things I got for dinner was half a naan bread. I don’t know who got the other half!”

A quarantine hotel breakfast.

He said people quarantining had to be escorted by security guards for their 15 minutes of fresh air. “We are not prisoners, we are not trying to escape,” he said.

“I really feel for the people who are quarantining with children. The hotel staff have been polite but the conditions here are claustrophobic. It is perfectly reasonable and sensible not to bring infection into the country but things don’t need to be this draconian.”

Zahid Siddiqui, 58, returned from Pakistan where he had spent several months visiting his sick father. He expressed concerns about the lack of ventilation, fresh air and exercise and poor food.

“The whole thing was a nightmare,” he said. “I have various medical conditions such as atrial fibrillation and medical advice is that I need to take daily exercise. But I was only allowed to go outside for two of the 11 days. I have never been in jail in my life but this experience felt like it. I have never before suffered from depression but after my time in the quarantine hotel I now understand the meaning of the word.”

There are currently 43 countries on the Government’s travel “red list“, which will be reviewed, along with the “green” and “amber” lists, every three weeks.

Worth reading in full.